A Year of Mentoring, a Lifetime of Impact: The Maternal Health Young Professionals Program in India

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By: Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

At the beginning of this year, the MHTF teamed up with St. John’s Medical College and Research Institute to launch the Maternal Health Young Professionals (MHYP) program; a year-long mentoring program for health professionals throughout India.

This professional development program supported eight young health professionals from the private, public and practice sectors to enhance their research, evaluation, and managerial skills – equipping them with the skills they need to be national and global leaders in maternal health.

In September, the MHYP showcased their projects, which were made possible by this unique skill building and mentoring process. Applying scientific writing, statistical methods, and program evaluation training, MHYPs presented projects on low-tech solutions for home-based blood pressure monitoring, acceptability of diverse folic acid delivery methods, quality of midwife-based antenatal care, impact of implementing the “WHO Safe Birthing Checklist,” Lamaze breathing for labor pain control, and home-based pre-eclampsia care.

Many of these projects were created based on both professional and personal experiences with the health care system. Sushmita, a nursing professor, experienced a long painful labor with her second birth – a stark contrast to the ease of her first birth when she used breathing exercises taught to her by a nursing classmate. Interested in a low-tech solution to the dearth of pain management techniques for labor in India, she studied the effectiveness of Lamaze breathing exercises on pain control and other birth outcomes. Since breathing exercises are not utilized in India, this intervention has the potential for being a high-impact, low-tech solution to long and painful labor.

The transformative aspect of this program was mentoring. Mentoring is rare if not completely absent from medical and nursing education and training in India. One of the MHYPs, Latha, a nurse, said, “Before [this program] we had to learn by our mistakes, but this program allows us to be guided.”

Working with both a mentor from their own institution and a mentor from an external institution—such as Jhpiego, St. Johns Research Institute, Myrada, Institute of Public Health, and the National Institute of Epidemiology—these MHYPs set out to put their new skills to use through a variety of projects. When MHYPs and their mentors were interviewed about these projects, a common theme emerged. The research methodologies learned and practiced in this program were invaluable.

Dr. Dutta, a mentor, shared, “What India lacks are good researchers… [and a] research bent [is one] that every public health professional I reckon should have so they can generate evidence… [and] so that it feeds back into improving the system. That edge was definitely missing before the MHYP program.”

Sushmita agrees with Dr. Dutta and has learned a variety of skills to improve management and patient outcomes. “My knowledge of the research methodology… has improved a great extent and I am confident in managing man power, the resource utilization, [and] patient care,” she said.

As the MHYP program comes to a close, the MHTF, along with with St. John’s Medical College and Research Institute, congratulates the eight MHYPs on their efforts to improve maternal health in India.